I’m going to take this time to give myself a pat on the back. I am constantly amazed with my body’s strength and resiliency that I think it needs some recognition. From day one, I have enjoyed all of the street foods that India has to offer. Samosas, grilled corn, and even those little delicious potato things that come in tin cups. I also adamantly support my personal philosophy that some of the best food comes from the smallest, grubbiest, little restaurants and stores. I cook my own vegetables from the local market and I never pass on local food offered to me by friends or coworkers. I’ve watched roommates make trips to the hospital, surviving on toast for days, while I order delivery from the local hole-in-the-wall. Now let me not brag, I have experienced minor “bumps in the road,” to put it lightly, but for the most part my body constantly consumes and savors these delectable treats without major problems. In fact, my roommate has dubbed me the “iron stomach.”
But as the saying goes, all giants have to fall (is that how the saying goes?). Anyways, I knew by sheer odds that it was only a matter of time before I came down with something. So fall, I did. Literally. To spare you all the gory details, I got sick as soon as we arrived in Jaipur. I passed out the next morning and busted my chin open on the marble floor. A visit from the doctor, three stitches, and a couple of bruises later, I’m feeling much better and left with only a little band-aid. I spent my time in Jaipur, the renowned pink city, becoming intimate with hotel room TV and if I see another commercial for Dettol, Kohler, or some watch company again, I might scream. Bummer I had to miss the sights, but at least I have a cool story to tell now, right?
I think I can forgive me body for this one hiccup considering, as previously mentioned, how much I do “challenge it.” If you haven’t gathered already by my mention of food in every blog entry, India for me has been somewhat indulgent food-wise. I feel like I talk about food in India the way Elizabeth Gilbert talks about food in Italy in her book “Eat, Pray, Love.” It’s a fascination, close to a point of obsession. But beyond enjoying the flavors and tastes, a big part of eating for me is about appreciating the culture it comes from. Food is such a big piece of every society that to truly immerse yourself, to get the full experience, you need to eat and appreciate the food it has to offer. It’s the same reason that I chose to put my vegetarianism aside when I traveled to Kenya. I didn’t want to create another obstacle between me and anyone else, another reason to define me as different or separate.
I was disappointed the other day when while eating at a nice restaurant geared towards tourists, my family was approached by another family from the US. They seemed really excited to hear I was living in Hyderabad and asked if they could ask me one question. Of course I obliged. Of all things, they wanted to know if I could eat the street food here. That’s the one thing they wanted to know? While some of the bacteria might be different, and for some it might be wise to get your stomach adjusted before you dive in, if the people here eat it, why shouldn’t we? I find that approaching a culture with an open-minded and flexible attitude lends to interesting and fulfilling situations later, like drinking chai with local shopkeepers or eating the Indian equivalent of fast food with my coworkers. Food opens doors, it’s an automatic conversation piece, and something to do. I feel like I would be missing out on so much if I lived my life afraid of doing as the locals do. I would miss out on my neighborhood’s local culture if I didn’t have my vegetable stand guy in the market or my weekly trips to the restaurant up the block. I would miss out on lunch with the ladies from work and homemade dinners at friends’ houses. I would miss out on truly experiencing India. Now this is all to say that you don’t have to love the food, just don’t be afraid to try it.
Maybe my good health has been due to an exceptionally strong intestinal track, but I like to think that a little part of my success can be attributed to a go-with-the-flow attitude. Whatever it may be, thank you body for (mostly) going with the flow.